Seamless service and a kitchen that just knows what it’s doing
AS a well-fed restaurant critic eating his way around the West Country in order to point readers in the right direction for their next meal, I don’t expect an ounce of sympathy when I tell you I had to drag myself off my sick bed to deliver this review.
Hit by the dreaded pre-Christmas lurgy – it was much worse than the usual man flu – and bed-bound and shaking for two days, I was starting to worry whether these pages would even be filled at all.
Still, there’s nothing quite like the panic of a late copy deadline and the thought of a finger-tapping editor to aid a miraculous and swift recovery and so I booked dinner at Dan Moon at The Gainsborough Restaurant in Bath.
An impressive building dating from the 1820s, when it was a hospital, this luxurious hotel is owned by the Malaysian-based YTL Hotels group and its biggest claim to fame is that it’s the only hotel in Bath with a spa using the Roman city’s natural thermal waters.
Just five minutes walk from the railway station and around the corner from Bath’s Christmas market, it’s certainly well positioned for a festive meal.
A majestic building with all the touches of a top-flight five-star hotel, down to the sharp-suited staff opening doors for you on arrival, it is the kind of place where you know the restaurant is not going to come cheap, although there is a set pretheatre menu (served 6pm to 7pm) at £35 for three courses or £28 for two.
For those who want to really flex the plastic, there’s a six-course tasting menu for £60 and also vegetarian and pescatarian menus, but it was the à la carte that reeled me in.
Head chef Dan Moon has spent most of his career cooking in West Country hotels, including Hunstrete House (before it was turned into The Pig), Homewood Park and Ston Easton.
Since arriving at The Gainsborough, he has bagged three AA rosettes for his modern British cooking, which majors on unusual flavour combinations.
With its wooden parquet floor, sumptuous leather armchairs and low lighting, the large restaurant manages to feel warmer and more welcoming than most hotel dining rooms. Service is seamless and the well-drilled staff rarely miss a beat.
After top-notch breads – three different types matched by a trio of different butters – a starter of sauteed scallop, shellfish risotto, yuzu, king prawn and seaweed (£13.50) showed all the marks of a kitchen that really knows what it’s doing.
The scallop and king prawn were precisely cooked and the risotto rich and robustly flavoured, with zesty explosions from the yuzu and a salty iodine crunch from the seaweed. My only gripe was that is was quite tricky to eat in its glass bowl as the risotto kept slipping around as I cut into the prawn and scallop.
Still, let’s not get into first world problems here – after all, I saw several people sleeping in freezing shop doorways on my walk from the railway station to the restaurant.
A main course of roasted best-end of Mendip lamb, lamb bon-bon, saltbaked celeriac, black pudding, girolles (£29.50) arrived under a shiny silver cloche, which was removed with a theatrical flourish by the waitress.
The full-flavoured lamb – both the pink best-end and the more intense bon-bon made with the shoulder – was topped with crumbled black pudding, soft and fluffy salt-baked celeriac, a few girolles and lashings of rich jus. It wasn’t an especially challenging dish but it was an intelligent and confident bit of cooking.
Lemon mousse, cranberry sorbet, lemon balm, meringue, passion fruit (£9.50) was similar to a cheesecake in that the zesty mousse had a biscuit base but there was a brittle crunch from the meringue matchsticks and tiny Iced Gems-like swirls. The cranberry sorbet provided a sharpness that sliced through the mousse and a jug of passionfruit essence completed a light and refreshing finale.
By the end of that little lot, your poorly critic was feeling revived, back on track and with enough energy to open the laptop. But then I’ve never needed much excuse to feed a cold lavishly.
Lemon mousse, cranberry sorbet, lemon balm, meringue, passion fruit was similar to a cheesecake